Before My Time is about the ancestry and extended family of my four grandparents: John Samuel Krentz (Indiana/North Dakota), Margreta Tjode Hedwig (Gertie) Buss (North Dakota), Rosmer Pettis Kerr (Pennsylvania/Michigan), and Evelyn Elvina Hauer (Michigan), and other topics in genealogy and family history.

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Sunday, February 06, 2011

Blurb Rant: I tried, and I tried, but . . .

. . . I can't get no satisfaction!

Reader, have I raved enough about Blurb in the past? I think so! I spent most of 2010 creating books--seven titles in print so far and at least another half-dozen in various stages of development--and Blurb has been my print-on-demand publisher of choice. It still is, in fact, although I am heartsick over something that happened with the printing of my most recent and most important book, Mary Roslyn Kerr: A Book of Childhood Memories. And so I'm sorry to have to backpedal some regarding my previous Blurb raves.

Before creating this book about my mother, I created six books based on a number of personal blogs I've kept since 2005. I wanted to learn, before investing months of work creating a family history book, how to use Blurb's BookSmart software as well as what I could expect from Blurb in a finished product.

According to Blurb's FAQ page What types of bindings and book sizes are available?:
For you bindery aficionados, Blurb uses both "side sewn" and  "perfect bound" binding options on all hardcover books. Generally, books with fewer than 120 pages will be side-sewn. Books with more than 120 pages will be perfect bound.
But what about books of exactly 120 pages, I wondered. Would they get sewn bindings or perfect (i.e., glued) bindings?

I made my blog books in Blurb's 7" square format. Three of the books had 80 pages, while the other three had 120 pages. All six were made with sewn bindings. As a result, I set a limit of 120 pages for my future family history books. I am making them specifically with the intention of preserving family history for future generations, so the durability and longevity of a sewn binding is of great importance to me. My book-making dream is that my books will be handed down for generations to come, and with all their pages intact!

Because of the information noted above from Blurb's FAQ combined with my own three 120-page book experiences, I fully expected the book about my mom to be made with sewn bindings. I ordered twelve copies of it in time for Christmas giving. I'd done my research, I'd done my homework, I'd done my test run with less important books, so I was feeling pretty confident, despite the use of the weasel-word "generally" in Blurb's FAQ.

And of course you know why I'm writing about this today. When my order was delivered and I took the first copy out of the box to look at it, CRACK!!! went the binding of the book, and suddenly I was looking at an ugly glue-filled split between the last page and the end-paper.

I contacted Blurb's customer service via a link on their website. A quick response was promised, and indeed it did come within a few hours. It was essentially a scripted or form response, telling me to submit a photo of the problem, which I then did. It took longer to get their next reply, which again seemed formulaic, but offered me a credit to have my book order reprinted. I asked if there was a way I could be assured that the reprinted books would have sewn bindings, and was told there would be "a better chance" if I removed pages from the book, but that there was still no guarantee that the binding would be sewn rather than glued; however, I was assured that Blurb does guarantee the quality of their products.

To give my book the best chance, I did remove two pages, bringing the page-count down to 118 rather than 120. However, the reprinted edition also arrived with glued bindings.

Soon there came another email from Blurb, asking me to take a survey about my experience with their customer service but saying that if my issue was not resolved to my satisfaction, I should reopen my customer service ticket rather than take the survey. At that time I was too depressed about the whole thing to deal with it any further, so I put it aside until last week, when I finally pulled myself together and contacted customer service again.

In my email to them, I reviewed the issue I'd had, and asked them this:
... what I need from you today, before I write my post, is to know the following:
    1. how Blurb decides which books will be glued and which sewn--my readers
and I would all like to increase our chances of getting the binding we want.
    2. why the customer doesn't get to decide this critical issue during the
ordering process.
    3. whether Blurb has any plans to make it an option for Blurbarians in
the future.
Again the response was formulaic. It didn't add any new information in response to my first question, and did not address my second and third questions at all.

As a result of this experience, I've learned (or think I've learned) several things about Blurb:
  • Blurb uses more than one printing company to print book orders. It seems that not all printers are created equally; some have the means to create books with side-sewn bindings and others create books with glued bindings. All of my 7" books were sent from an address in Washington, while my 8" x 10" family history book was sent to me from Missouri (both the original order and the replacement order). In my experience, the Washington printer sews, and the Missouri printer glues.
  • Even in the service of customer satisfaction, which Blurb seems to want, they have no means in place to assure than any particular book order will have a sewn binding. From my experience, it seems to depend on the luck of the draw. Maybe it depends on the dimensions of the book?
  • Blurb's customer service department seems to be scripted and unable to respond in a very personalized way, which left me feeling unheard. On the other hand, when I followed their complaint procedure, they readily replaced my order.
I'd like to see Blurb make sewn bindings an option in the same way that premium paper is an option. I'd happily pay a couple dollars more per book for a sewn binding when long-range durability is an issue.

I'll be sharing some additional thoughts about Blurb in my next post.


Susan Petersen said...

Thanks for sharing your experiences. Since a long time goal is to publish some family history books, such issues are important to know about in advance.

Heather Rojo said...

I love Blurb, but I do admit that I dislike their customer service. It is practically non-existent. I would love to speak with someone on a PHONE, but I guess that will never happen.

Lori E said...

Bloggers are a powerful group. I hope they get their act together and that you get the binding you want. What is the point of having two choices if you can't choose? Terrible.

T.K. said...

Stay tuned, Susan. More news you can use coming right up!

I totally agree, Heather, speaking with a live person might make a big difference in customer satisfaction. Even if they can't give you exactly what you want, it would be nice if they would explain why, and whether it might be an option in the future. I've seen a number of complaints in their Forum about glued bindings, so I know I'm not the only one for whom this is an issue.

T.K. said...

I had to laugh, Lori, at the way you phrased it, two choices but you can't choose. Yeah! Whassup with that, huh?

And you're right too about bloggers being powerful, and I think in this particular situation we have extra power, in that we are part of a very large community of people (GeneaBloggers) who have a higher than average potential for becoming customers of a print-on-demand publishing service.

Heather Rojo said...

All in all, I prefer Blurb over the other self publishers, and they are the only ones to offer a sewn binding. However, it appears to be an "offer" with no guarantees. I've been lucky to have had all my under 120 page books come back sewn from Blurb, so I guess it will always be a chance more than a choice.

Greta Koehl said...

Ugh ... as someone who is considering using a service of this sort in the future, this definitely has me thinking.... Hope the prospect of a lot of bad publicity among a large group of potential users will have an effect.

Michelle Goodrum said...

I'll be watching to see how your story ends. I'm in the same boat as Susan, wanting to publish myself and Blurb has been on my list of companies to investigate. Now, I'm not so sure...

T.K. said...

Heather, you're spot on regarding the offer of sewn bindings. I didn't see any mention of that on any of the other sites I looked at.

Greta, I'm also hoping Blurb will see the potential for a lot of good publicity if they find a way to step up and meet the need!

Michelle, and Greta too, you'll find some useful information in tomorrow's post!

T.K. said...

BTW, Heather, I wonder if you recall what city your orders were shipped from?

Heather Rojo said...

I hope everyone here will still seriously consider Blurb. I've tried many of the others (Blog2Book, Kodak, Shutterfly, etc) and I still think Blurb has the best binding, editing features, paper quality, cover quality, photo quality and more. Over all, I'm still happier with their product than with anyone else. They have always quickly reprinted things I was not happy with. But, no one is perfect and this is my top #1 rant with Blurb- the faceless customer service.

T.K. said...

You're right again, Heather, no one is perfect, so all we can do is make informed choices from what's available, and hopefully influence the industry to offer more of what we want to buy.

I still choose Blurb too... but hey, that's tomorrow's post!

Bob Kramp said...

Are there different qualities to the "glued" type of binding? Unfortunately, the first book you picked up "cracked" the binding. Did others in the order also crack? I assume the replacement order was the Glued type- did they also crack? I've created two books with blurb with each under 50 pages. I blogged about my experience with Shutterfly, Snapfish and Blurb.

T.K. said...

Hi Bob,
When the first book out of the box cracked, I didn't even take the others out of the box before contacting Blurb. I expected to be returning them. When Blurb resolved the issue, they didn't ask for the books to be returned. When I eventually took the books out and checked them, none of the others cracked. My best guess would be that the first one cracked because it was cold from being out in the delivery truck all day, and the others didn't crack because they were warmed up from being in the house for several days. So, does cold cause the glue to crack? I don't know. But I've never seen a sewn binding crack from being cold.

What about aging? Have you ever seen glue become brittle and ineffective from aging? Will this glued binding last fifty years? A hundred? Right now I have a book on my desk which came out in 1884, and the sewn binding is still doing its job perfectly. True, it's casebound, not side-sewn which is a newer method (and cheaper, no doubt). To me it just seems logical to expect that a side-sewn binding would outlast a glued binding.

Yes, the replacement books were glued bindings also. When I gave my family members their books, I warned them not to even peek unless the book was at room temperature.

Did your Blurb books have sewn bindings? You can easily tell by opening the back cover and looking at the line where the cover meets the end page. If it's sewn, you'll see the little stitches every half inch or so in the gulley. If it's glued, the line will be very smooth.

Thanks for the heads-up about your book-making posts. I really enjoy reading what others are doing and thinking about regarding POD books. I also enjoyed seeing What About Bob (both the movie and your book!). I liked your idea of a yearbook-style page with a sequence of your school pictures. It looks great, and it's an idea I'll use when I make a book about myself.

Thanks for stopping by, Bob!

Bob Kramp said...

Yes, both of my Blurb booklets (under 40 pages) had the "sewn" type of binding rather than the glued type. I was glad to hear that the cracking of the glued binding is a rare occurance in your experience and that it might be dependent on room temperature. Still, I agree with you that the sewn type is probably more durable. Incidentally, my Snapfish (dot)com booklets were of the sewn type of binding, whereas my Shutterfly booklets were of the glued type.

T.K. said...

Many thanks, Bob, for the additional info about the bindings at Snapfish and Shutterfly. That info seems to be fairly hard to come by.

My daughter created a book using MyPublisher. That one appears to have a sewn binding also, although I was unable to find any mention of it on their website.

BTW, I said gulley but I meant gutter... LOL! What's more, I knew gulley was not the word I was looking for when I said it, but gutter was nowhere to be found. Yeah. Y'all just wait till my Alzheimer's sets in...

Blog Archive


Our Family in Books: A Bibliography

  • My Ancestors in Books (a library of resources and notes pertaining to Reverend Samuel Stone, Major General Robert Sedgwick, Elder John Crandall, and other early Americans in the forest where my family tree was grown)
  • The Zahnisers: A History of the Family in America by Kate M. Zahniser and Charles Reed Zahniser (Mercer, Pa. 1906)
  • History of St. James Lutheran Church [full title: A little of this and a little of that in the 141 year (1861-2002) History of St. James Lutheran Church, Reynolds Indiana] by Harold B. Dodge, published at Reynolds, Indiana, 2002; 170 pages.
  • Lisbon, North Dakota 1880-2005 Quasuicentennial, published at Lisbon, North Dakota in 2005; 391 pages.
  • The Paschen and Redd Families of Cass County, Indiana by Alfred Paschen, c. 2005 (Gateway Press, Inc., Baltimore, MD); 322 pages.
  • Sheldon Community History: Sheldon Centennial 1881-1981, published at Sheldon, North Dakota in 1981; 376 pages.
  • Sheldon, North Dakota 1881-2006 - 125th Anniversary: The Queen of the Prairie, published at Sheldon, North Dakota in 2006; 498 pages.
  • A Standard History of White County, Indiana, written under the supervision of W.H. Hamelle, c. 1915 (The Lewis Publishing Company, Chicago and New York).
  • The Roots of Coventry, Connecticut by Betty Brook Messier and Janet Sutherland Aronson, c. 1987 (Coventry 275th Anniversary Committee, Coventry, CT); 206 pages.
  • "Elder John Crandall of Rhode Island and His Descendants" by John Cortland Crandall; New Woodstock, New York, 1949; 797 pages.
  • "The Descendants of Robert Burdick of Rhode Island." Nellie (Willard) Johnson, Pd.B.: H & L Creations, LLC.

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